Black Caesars and Foxy Cleopatras: A History of Blaxploitation Cinema

Abrams. Jan. 2024. 304p. ISBN 9781419758416. $27. FILM
Boston Globe film critic Henderson’s debut book is a lively exploration of 1970s Blaxploitation films. Blaxploitation (more of an era than a genre, according to Henderson) featured Black actors, writers, and directors creating low-budget films aimed at Black audiences, always with soulful soundtracks by such stars as Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch, and Marvin Gaye; many became box office hits. Black and white critics often dismissed these films for their extreme violence, nudity, and sex. The NAACP coined the phrase “Blaxploitation” while denouncing Super Fly as a poor representation of the Black community because its main characters were sex workers, pimps, and drug dealers. But Black audiences enjoyed seeing Black people in leading roles as strong characters, which made these films financially successful. Henderson is clearly fond of this era of film, but that does not stop him from his own critiques of the misogyny in cult classics such as Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Shaft, and Willie Dynamite. However, he gives these classic films, their stars (particularly Pam Grier), and the funky soundtracks their due.
VERDICT An enjoyable, funny, and in-depth examination of Blaxploitation films and their influence on contemporary cinema and television
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